Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Caramel Crunched Tart

I should start by saying that there have been far, far more TWD desserts that I expected not to enjoy, but ended up loving, than there have been desserts that I expected to love but did not. I will also say that when I affirmatively do not like a Dorie Greenspan dessert, and cannot explain that dislike purely by personal taste (see, e.g. custard, flan), I assume that I made an error. Usually I can identify the error, but in the case of this week's Tuesdays With Dorie dessert, Chocolate Caramel Crunched Tart, I cannot. But since most of the TWD universe heard angels sing upon tasting this dessert, and I was most disappointed, I can only conclude that I messed something up somewhere.

I cut most of the recipe down to make one 4" tart, but I made a full batch of the caramel because I had visions of my non-chocolate-eating husband enjoying the leftovers over vanilla ice cream. And he might have, if we owned a jackhammer. I had one previous run-in with caramel that, um, did not go well, so I was nervous going in. In fact, when my husband asked me that Saturday morning what I had on the agenda for the day, I told him that I was totally flexible for most of the day, but that at 1:00, I needed to concentrate on caramel completely, and would be most appreciative if the children were out of the kitchen (out of the house = even better). He totally wrangled the kids during the appointed time, and I had zen-like focus on the caramel. It seemed to go fine. The temperature was right. The color was right.

But the caramel was so, so wrong. It was spreadable at first, but once it cooled, it became rock hard, and I found the flavor to be on the bitter side. Not at all the smooth, luxurious caramel I had been hoping for. The caramel was very hard to break through without a knife (or with a knife, for that matter), and the ganache did not seem to be properly set. While this screams "company dessert!" on paper, I would not serve it to company unless Dorie herself were in the kitchen making it with me, because I don't want to have to raid my toolbox for proper dessert utensils (wire cutters? needlenose pliers?) nor do I like to ask my dinner guests to sign a waiver before biting into my dessert affirming that they have not had any recent dental work.

Carla of Chocolate Moosey chose this tart. It is obviously wonderful in just about everybody else's hands, so head on over to Carla's website for the recipe!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD: Cottage Cheese Pufflets

I find that participating in a weekly baking group is mostly a good thing, but one bad thing about it is that sometimes you bake for the wrong reasons. You might find yourself baking not because you feel like baking, or because you are going somewhere where it might be nice to bring a cake, or because you or anyone you live with or know actually wants what you're baking. No, sometimes you bake just to get the darn thing baked, because that's what you do. You get things baked.

But it's always great when you taste something that you baked for the sole purpose of getting it baked and find that you really really like it. Then it's all worth it. Such was the case with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Cottage Cheese Pufflets, which were chosen by Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes. It's not that they didn't sound good to me -- they did. But I baked these in a hurry several weeks ago before heading out of town to visit my adorable new baby nephew, so I was kind of checking things off the ol' list left and right, and the pufflets were just another item on the list, along with "buy TSA-approved baggies" and "pick up monogrammed bib." Therefore, I remember very little about baking them. I don't think they gave me too much trouble, or I would have remembered. I know that some people found the dough to be hard to work with, but I don't recall having any particular issues with it. I know that I did a poor job sealing them, as the jam kind of oozed out while they were baking, as you can see in the picture.

I do know that we really liked these. The pufflets were more breakfast pastry-ish than dessert pastry-ish, in my opinion. The dough puffed as it was supposed to puff and was flaky, tender and not too sweet. It went well with strawberry jam, which I can see from the pictures that I used. I might have made a few with apricot jam as well. David?

I knew that David would be turned off by the name "cottage cheese" pufflets. As I handed him one, I thought for a split second about calling them "jam pufflets" or "pufflet pastries" or "jam pastry thingies," but I told it like it was -- "cottage cheese pufflets" -- and watched him grimace. But fortunately, the worst thing about these is their name, and after one bite hubs was a believer in the deliciousness of cottage cheese dough. Who knew?

Thank you Jacque for the great pick!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TWD: Flaky Apple Turnovers

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe for Flaky Apple Turnovers was chosen by Julie of Someone's in the Kitchen. For whatever reason I did not get my act together and make these over the weekend, when the timing and lighting conditions would have been more favorable. So I found myself scrambling to get these done and photographed on Tuesday, which (fair warning) will be obvious from the quality of the photos and the post.

Dorie calls the sour cream turnover pastry a "miracle," because it is rolled, chilled, and folded in a way that encourages it to gently puff. Sadly, I tend to be a miracle killer when it comes to pastry, but I was very intrigued by this dough and hoped for the best.

I read the recipe and saw that the dough calls for three (3) sticks of butter.

[QUIZ: How annoying is it to watch someone who voluntarily signed up for a weekly baking group act horrified by the quantity of butter that she is using on a weekly basis? ___ kinda ___ really ___ really really.]

I decided to quarter the recipe, because my family of five (and only three sure-bet turnover eaters) did not need 16 turnovers, and because somehow three ounces of butter seemed less menacing than three sticks, even though the per-turnover butter quantity would be exactly the same as if I went with the full three stick version. Nope, deep down, I wasn't fooled. But I used light sour cream because I had a fridge full of it, thanks to a 3 for $5 special at Western. I didn't need three 16 oz containers of light sour cream (who does?) but I couldn't afford not to buy it at that price. I wasn't sure how light sour cream would work in the recipe, but decided to have faith that all the butter would carry me home in the turnover fat department.

The dough is a simple mixture of sour cream, sugar, flour, salt and, of course, butter. The butter gets cut into the flour with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. I do not have a pastry blender, and even one knife at a time is plenty dangerous for me, so I decided to follow Dorie's lead and use my fingers. Worked like a charm! I achieved that coarse meal consistency, although there were still a few large gobs of butter in there. Dorie's instructions suggested that that was preferable to over mixing, so I left them, and then added the sour cream/sugar mixture.

After a couple of rounds of chilling, rolling, and folding like a business letter, my turnovers were filled and ready to bake:

I didn't expect to see anything as dramatic as puff pastry, but I was hoping to get flaky dough with some decent puffage* (*probably not a word).


Success!!! We LOVED these! They were puffingly* (*actual word) flaky:

The dough was wonderful - it is indeed miraculous; Dorie is not kidding. The texture was perfect, and it was not overly sweet, so it complemented the apple/sugar/cinnamon mixture very well. My hubs raved about these and said that they reminded him of a fried pie (that's a compliment) but without the grease. As expected, David, Caroline and I were the only ones who ate these. Someday, perhaps my older two children will look back with regret on those days when mom baked crazy delicious things multiple times a week, only to be rebuffed in favor of Transformers fruit snacks. Until then, more for the rest of us!

Thank you for this fabulous fall pick, Julie! And thank you Dorie for yet another incredible dessert.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Soufflé

I'd never made a soufflé before this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, although I joined TWD in the first place because I was excited about the prospect of making renowned desserts that I would never otherwise try, like soufflés. Soufflés are synomous with difficult and fussy (although Dorie assures us that this reputation is undeserved) and, as my husband pointed out, a plot point in numerous Tom & Jerry episodes (i.e., Tom & Jerry's antics cause soufflé to collapse). I couldn't wait to tackle it.

I never really knew what went into a soufflé, and now that I know, I'm totally amazed. Chocolate, eggs, sugar, milk. That's it. No flour. No butter. The fact that these four ingredients can combine to create a dessert with this crumb

blows my mind. It's nothing short of magical. I mean, do a few different things with those same ingredients and you get ice cream. It's almost too much for me to get my head around.

I didn't think that anyone would eat these besides me and my two year old, Caroline, so I decided to quarter the recipe and bake the soufflés in two 6 oz ramekins. The recipe is so simple that I can actually remember what I did without having to go upstairs and check the cookbook! Melt sugar and chocolate over a pan of hot water, whisk in milk. Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes and whisk in egg yolk. Meanwhile, whip egg whites until they are opaque, add in sugar, and continue whipping until they start to hold peaks. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Fill ramekin(s):

And bake. I took a picture of them in the oven to prove that they rose, just in case they immediately deflated as soon as I opened the oven, which was very possible since I live in a Tom & Jerry kind of world:

These soufflés left me speechless. What can I say? They are shockingly easy to make. They are intensely chocolaty, decadent and rich, without feeling heavy. This is, hands down, a top 5 Dorie dessert for me. My only mistake was in making just two of these, because my seven year old and four year old loved the soufflé and wanted their own. Lucky for them, they won't have to wait long to try these again.

One of my favorite blogger friends, Susan from Doughmesstic, chose this week's recipe. Do yourself a favor and visit Susan's blog - she's talented, creative, and really fun. She made the most adorable (and delicious!) custom cookies for my daughter's birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and I've been telling all my real life friends about her ever since! Thanks for the cookies, Susan, and for this fabulous TWD pick!

Monday, September 7, 2009

BBA: Cinnamon Raisin(less) Walnut "Swirl" Bread

The Slow & Steady subgroup of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge took on Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread this week. I tell you, the deeper I get into the Bread Baker's Apprentice, the more hooked I get on bread baking. It's like a little miracle happens every time that dough rises.

Of course, there's always something about my breads that keep them from being perfect (see, e.g, tiny ciabatta holes, preternatural hugeness, or gaping holes in cinnamon bread where swirl is supposed to begin) and therefore I don't usually get to revel in the miracle of my risen bread for very long. But still, even less-than-perfect homemade bread is pretty darn good, and this cinnamon walnut bread is Exhibit A.

Many of Peter's breads are two-day breads, requiring some kind of overnight soaker before the dough is mixed, but this one is a one day bread. It's also a one-bowl bread, so it is just about as easy as it gets. I started this one on Sunday evening at about 7:00. I don't usually like to start bread at night because I never know when I'm going to hit The Wall, and if I do happen to hit The Wall when my dough still needs to rise for another 30 minutes and bake for 40 minutes, I'm likely to make decisions that are good for my sleep needs but bad for my bread. Fortunately, on the first rise my dough doubled in 1.5 hours (rather than the 2 that Peter estimates it will take), and crested the pans on the second rise in about an hour. So the bread was out of the oven at the respectable hour of 10:30, and my night-owl husband graciously offered to cover the bread once it was cool. Delicious cinnamon bread and a decent night's sleep to boot - yup, it was a good day.

I left out the raisins here, but decided to try for a cinnamon swirl when shaping the bread. Peter provides clear instructions for doing this, and I tried to follow the instructions exactly, but my swirling clearly needs work. The slices of bread on the end of the loaf had these crazy half swirl things -- kind of like a semicolon with a huge hole where the top dot should be:

I'm a big fan of the semicolon, but not in the middle of my bread. Fortunately, when you got towards the center of the bread, the swirl looked a little more like a swirl is supposed to look (except for the big hole). I gave one loaf to David's parents, and I'm curious to hear how their swirl looked. I'm hoping that it didn't evoke thoughts of punctuation marks for them.

But mutant swirl or not, this is incredibly delicious bread. I was pleased with the crumb, and while I think this would be delicious fresh, cinnamon bread seems like it is meant to be toasted. So I toasted it, buttered it, and sprinkled it with more cinnamon sugar. My entire family loved this. Another great one from the Bread Baker's Apprentice!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ellie: Nekkid Waldorf Chicken Wraps

Jessica of Johnstone's Vin Blanc chose this weeks recipe for CEiMB, Waldorf Chicken Wraps. I fully intended to photograph and eat this in wrap form, but due to rushed lunch-packing and rushed picture taking, my chicken salad has yet to don a wrap.

I was happy to see this pick, because it is a perfect, portable lunch choice. I work in a field in which a 10 hour day is just a normal, ordinary workday, and during busy times, the hours can get much longer than that. But I've been working part-time ever since I had kids, which means that I have a limited amount of time in the office and usually have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Therefore, I don't usually leave my desk for lunch. Also, I'm kind of lazy -- that's another reason I don't leave my desk. Inertia just tends to take over, and unless acted upon by an outside force, the walk to Chick-Fil-A just never seems worth it. I will even go to great lengths to avoid having to walk downstairs two floors to heat something up in the microwave, such as buying Thermos hot food containers, or eating food cold that should be warm. So this Waldorf Chicken salad is really the perfect lunch for me. I could pack it in my pink Pottery Barn Kids lunch box in the morning, and enjoy it at noon with minimal movement required.

Yogurt replaces the usual mayonnaise in this chicken salad (there's just a touch of mayonnaise in the dressing). I used nonfat Greek yogurt, which I somehow lived without for 35 years, but I have no idea how. Ever since I discovered it last year (thank you, food blogging community!) it has been as much of a staple in my house as bread or milk. Lemon juice, dijon mustard, thyme, salt and pepper round out the dressing, and grapes, apples, and toasted walnuts combine with the chicken to create the salad. I know that I have walnuts somewhere around here, but I couldn't for the life of me find them while I was making this, so I used almonds instead.

Result: I really like this chicken salad. While it might not be the best chicken salad I've ever had, it is light, flavorful and perfect for the ol' lunchbox. I'll make this one again -- might even wrap it next time. Thanks Jessica!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

I had the kind of mixed feelings about this week's TWD recipe, Espresso Cheesecake Brownies, that I have about almost every chocolate pick. On one hand, they involve espresso, cheesecake, and brownies, so they pretty much sounded like heaven in a pan to me. On the other hand, my husband does not eat chocolate-y things, and my kids do not eat espresso-y or cheesecake-y things, which left me as the sole Eater of the Brownies in my house. Which would be fine if I wasn't paying Weight Watchers International cash money to help me shed the last of my baby/enthusiastic new baker weight (my baby just turned two, and I'm not a new baker anymore). So as I was reading the recipe, my eyes saw notes in the recipe such as "Makes 16 brownies," but my brain interpreted them as "Makes all 15 of those pounds you just lost come back." Still, at the end of the day, c'mon -- they're Espresso Cheesecake Brownies!!!!! -- ain't no way I wasn't gonna make them.

The day I made these, I got a call from the school nurse about 20 minutes into the school day. "This is Nurse Monica. J is in here and says he has a tummy ache. Would you like to talk to him?" Well, since the child he sits next to in class has the swine flu, hell no, I don't want to talk to him! I want to do what any hysterical mother would do and check him out of school immediately so I could rush him to the pediatrician's office with the other hysterical mothers and their maybe sick, maybe not children. But we had a little time before our appointment, so I mixed up the brownie component of this recipe while my son dressed up as a ninja, which was my first clue that he probably did not have the swine flu (he didn't).

The brownie mixture was thick but pourable, sort of like magma (not "liquid hot magma," Mike Myers fans, just "magma") when I left it to go to the pediatrician's, but when I got back a couple of hours later, it was significantly thicker. I don't know if that long rest time affected the final outcome. But in the interest of full disclosure: I let the brownie mixture sit out for two hours when Dorie did not tell me to do that.

The cheesecake portion of this was easy. I used light cream cheese and sour cream, because I always use light cream cheese and sour cream, and therefore they taste normal to me.

Because of the thickness of my brownie batter after the long rest time, it was no longer pourable, and in fact, was pretty darn hard to spread in the bottom of the pan at all. I used a 9" round pan because I did not have a 9" square pan (I'm pretty sure that 9" square pans and 9" round pans have different capacities, but they are close enough for me). The cheesecake layer was pourable and spread nicely. My "swirling" of brownie batter into cheesecake batter was pretty pitiful, possibly because my brownie batter was so thick, and possibly because I'm just not cut out to be a swirler. I pretty much violated every one of Dorie's swirl-related warnings. Take care not to plunge knife into brownie layer? Oops. Swirl sparingly? Oops.

Despite all that, these baked up really well. I had to bake mine for 35 minutes before the cheesecake was set. Cool and refrigerate, and many hours later, you have . . . one delicious brownie! The brownie portion of mine was a little dry, but that may be because I let the batter sit out for so long. I think the brownie part tended towards "cakey" as opposed to "fudgy," which complements the creamy cheesecake nicely, although in general I prefer a fudgy brownie. Or maybe they were supposed to be fudgy and I just messed up -- always a solid possibility here. The espresso cheesecake part was to die for. These went straight to my freezer, where I've been doling them out to myself 1 oz at a time. They are actually great frozen, and the brownie doesn't seem quite as dry when it's frozen. They are not the easiest things to share because they need to be kept refrigerated, and because they bring out the Greedy Brownie Hoarder in me, but I may try to share the love soon if I can bear to part with them.

This wonderful brownie was chosen by Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell. Thanks for the great pick, Melissa!
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